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Shadow Slave
Chapter 132 End Of The Line

Chapter 132 End Of The Line

In the center of the cursed city, a tall hill towered above the ruins. At its base, an arch made of pristine white marble stood amidst the devastation. It was unscathed and spotless, as though protected from the entropic touch of the all-consuming darkness by some sublime force. Beyond the arch, a wide road paved with white stones scaled the hill.

Sunny looked up as they passed beneath the arch, trying to imagine crowds of festively dressed people doing the same in the distant past. It was hard and a little heartbreaking thinking about how the ancient city must have looked before the mysterious calamity.

Not turning her head, Effie said in a wistful tone:

"There are areas in the ruins that many Nightmare Creatures tend to avoid for some reason. The castle is one of these places. I was told that back when the original group of Sleepers came here hoping to carve a foothold in the city, there was only a single Spire Messenger nesting in the throne room, with no other monsters around. Those madmen actually managed to kill it."

Nephis gave her a glance.

"Spire Messenger?"

The huntress chuckled.

"Big ugly bastards with black feathers and pale bodies, you must have seen them hunting in the Labirynth. They come from the Spire."

Changing Star hesitated.

"What are their rank and class?"

Effie shivered a little.

"Fallen beasts. That's why I said that those guys were a little mad. But they were a powerful bunch."

She grew silent and then added in a quiet voice:

"It must have taken a lot to kill them, in the end."

Brought into a solemn mood by that last statement, they continued forward in silence. The stone road coiled around the hill, slowly climbing its sheer slopes. Here and there, it was broken by long stretches of stairs and formidable, but strangely graceful fortifications. No one was standing guard, though. The whole road was empty.

Sunny gestured to one of the stone barricades and asked:

"Why are there no watchmen?"

Effie shrugged.

"Gunlaug has barely enough people to man the castle walls. They will notice anything that approaches the hill, though. The whole city is in clear view from up there, and there are different protective measures put in place. They have already spotted us, too."

Sunny shifted his body a little, not enjoying the feeling of being watched by some unseen, potentially dangerous strangers.

…After a long time walking up the coiling road of white stone, they finally reached the zenith of the hill and saw the mighty castle in all its glory.

Up close, it looked even more magnificent.

Built from the same pristine marble as the arch at the base of the hill, it stretched into the sky like a white mountain made by human hands. The frontmost tower was wide and imposing, with a tall decorated gate and a grandiose staircase leading down from it to a vast stone platform that the road ended with.

On both sides of the frontmost tower, brought slightly forth, two other stood as bastions, connected to it with arched aerial bridges and accompanied by smaller companion towers of their own. Behind them, the main keep soared even higher, as though trying to challenge the menacing Crimson Spire that loomed above the world far in the distance.

Smaller towers, spires, and wings stood here and there, forming a complex and strangely harmonious formation.

The whole structure was incredibly beautiful, striking, and at the same time radiated a feeling of unassailable firmness. It was as though the castle was built for gods, not mortals.

The only thing that spoiled the picture were dozens of human skulls hanging above the gates on rusty chains.

Sunny grimaced, brought down to grim reality by this ghastly sight.

His gaze fell lower, only now noticing dozens of crude, makeshift hovels huddled on the stone platform. They were built from fragments of rubble, rotting wood and pieces of monster hides, chaotically clinging to the stones as if afraid to be blown away by the wind.

An unpleasant, strangely familiar smell hit him in the nose a few moments later. It was the motley, but unmistakable stench of the slums. That stench was nothing like the poisonous reek of the outskirts, and at the same time exactly the same.

Sunny couldn't help but smile crookedly.

'Gee. I'm home.'

Between the hovels, gaunt and empty-eyed people were busy eking out their pitiful existences. They were dressed in a strange mix of dirty rags and shiny Memories, with those wearing armor standing out among the rest like rare oddities. Most of them were extremely young, barely older than Sunny himself. He could smell their exhaustion and desperation even from where he was standing.

Sunny really wanted to laugh.

After everything he had been through ever since becoming infected by the Nightmare Spell, the cycle had finally completed. He was right back to where he had started, only much worse off.

Wasn't that the funniest thing ever?

If this wasn't fate, then he didn't know what was. Oh, the irony…

Changing Star's voice tore him away from his reverie.

"Sunny? Are you okay?"

He blinked a couple of times, then slowly turned to face her and said after a brief pause:

"Yeah. I was just reminiscing."

Something in his voice must have sounded strange, because she gave him a long look before turning away with a short nod.

"Good. Don't relax just yet."

Then, she turned to Effie and asked:

"What do we do now?"

The huntress looked around and shrugged.

"It's going to get dark soon, so I would advise you to find a shelter before that. Look around for an empty hut. With how many people die each season, there's always plenty of those. Otherwise, two of you can pay the tribute and go into the castle. But the third one will have to stay."

Changing Star lingered, then said:

"What about you?"

Effie grinned.

"What about me? That luxury one-bedroom cottage over there is mine. Mind you, it was built from the best kind of crap you can find here… although it's still crap. Anyway, I am going home, preparing myself a hearty supper and then going to sleep. I'm dead tired from these last couple of days. Sorry, I don't host guests."

Nephis stared at her, obviously wanting to say more, but then simply nodded.

"I see. Thank you for everything you have done for us. I won't forget it."

Effie smiled, patted her on the shoulder and turned to Sunny and Cassie.

"Bye, doofus. Bue, doll. See you around."

With that, she began whistling a cheerful melody and walked away.

The three of them were suddenly left alone, lost and unsure about what to do. The inhabitants of the outer settlement didn't pay them a lot of attention, only occasionally throwing an indifferent glance at the three young strangers. Only Cassie's beauty attracted a couple of intense, darkly fascinated gazes.

After a minute or so passed in disoriented silence, Changing Star hesitantly took out the two soul shards that they had collected from the remains of the Rolling Stone and looked at the glimmering crystals lying in her hand.

They had to make a decision.


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Shadow Slave Chapter 132 End Of The Line